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By on January 30, 2013


To: Justin, Matt,

cc: Tom

From: Nicholas

Subject: FTL on the iPad

Given the success of FTL on Steam and how well it is designed to be a marvellous free-to-play game on iPad, I have taken the liberty of sending you some design thoughts on making it happen.

What not to change


FTL is a successful game. We don’t want to break it when we add free-to-play elements. Here are some things that have to stay in place:

  • Randomness: If you can buy whatever you want, whenever you want, the core strategy and joy of FTL disappears. The game is about making-do, cobbling together strategies on the fly depending on the resources (weapons, upgrades, drones, augments, crew and so on) that you can gather. Randomness stays.
  • Jeopardy: Each battle in FTL is real. Your survival is at risk. Not only that, but damage to your hull stays with you, meaning that every battle is potentially the one that leads to your ultimate death. Like a predator gauging not only if it can beat its prey, but whether the prey can inflict a grievous wound even as it dies, I find myself concentrating on every single battle because they matter. That would go away if you could just repair your hull with cash. Jeopardy stays.
  • Replayability: FTL is structured to make you keep playing through eight star systems. When you die, you start again, but the randomness means no two journeys are ever the same. Replayability stays

What to change

  • Retention: FTL is great at keeping you engaged as you go through the star systems. While it has replayability, each time I return to the hangar it feels as if I am starting again. There is strength in the mechanics of unlocking ships and the achievements, but we need to look at a stronger meta-game that encourages players to feel that they are contributing to their overall success during every game
  • Durables: I propose giving the game away, so we need to start thinking of what we are going to sell to replace it. We need a $1 no-brainer purchase (which is likely to cost more than $1 for a premium game like this, perhaps $2-$5, depending on what it is)
  • Consumables: We need something that players can choose to spend on if they wish. I recommend that players can gave a great experience (and probably unlock everything in the game) for free, but we need to give them a choice.


My basic recommendation is not to touch the core of the game. It works and it’s brilliant. So we need to monetise the bits that don’t really exist yet: the metagame that keeps you playing for weeks and months. My ideas are not fully formed, so here are just some initial thoughts.

  • I propose adding a virtual currency to the game. It is collected alongside scrap as a premium currency.
  • The premium currency can be used in a variety of ways:
  • To upgrade the races. How this fits with the fiction is something to get Tom to help with. Perhaps it’s racial augmentation. Perhaps it’s implants. Perhaps it’s a theta ray beamed directly to the central cortex. I don’t know, but we can work out the fiction later. Here’s what it brings:
    • Each race is still interesting, but they can be improved over the long term, increasing the potential for players to make progress.
      • A Mantis would start being able to move at normal speed, but can be upgraded to 1.5x
      • An Engi would start with 25% increase in repairs that could be upgraded to 2x.
      • We can go through the races with these upgrades.
  • To upgrade the weapons:
    • A beam weapon could have the length of its beam extended by, perhaps, 100%
    • Missiles might be strengthened to be able to have a chance to avoid being shot down by drones
    • Lasers and bombs could recharge faster
    • To upgrade the ship. These should be valuable, and can affect the game over time. Suggestions include:
      • Adding extra hard points for weaponry. Consider reducing, say, the Kestrel to two or maybe three points for weapons. Over time, a player could earn the right to upgrade it to four or even six hardpoints.
      • To increase the amount of damage the hull can take. I propose only increasing it by 50%, or maybe 100%.
      • To permanently increase the amount of the energy a ship starts with
    • Each of these upgrades should have multiple levels that cost increasing amounts of resources to unlock. For example, you may be able to upgrade your hull by 10% for 100 coins, the next 10% for 1,000 coins and so on. The exact progression would need to be balanced to be fun, achievable but also providing a sense of challenge.
  • I recommend structuring the game such that the ship is lightly underpowered at the beginning, and the early upgrades make a significant difference to the experience. I also recommend that players be able to earn all the upgrades, but that it should take a very long time.
  • The durable upgrade (or upgrades) should be something which any committed player would think was massively valuable. A no-brainer purchase. Suggestions include:
    • A device that repairs one point of hull damage for every FTL jump.
    • A device that doubles the amount of premium currency earned per jump.


FTL is not only a marvellous game, it is a marvellous game that is well suited to free-to-play. A F2P FTL would widen your audience, bring the game to millions of new players and make significantly more revenue then you have to date by delighting your players. It would be wonderful if you could make it happen.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: